Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Snow Way!

We're going from 80 degrees F. to snow warnings tomorrow. My garden is hanging on for dear life.

Last weekend, we went to the Arboretum plant sale, and I bought another laurel tree. I think I know what killed the last one, so hopefully I can keep better track of what happens to it. I also bought a marjoram, and orange mint. I have no idea what we'll do with orange mint.

Last year's cutting lettuces have come back again. I never thought I'd have lettuce overwintering two years in  a row in Nebraska (really, last year should have been a fluke) and while I'm pleased to have the lettuces, I know this isn't a good sign.

In other news-we saw the first Ruby Throated Hummingbird last weekend. I hope it likes snow. Poor birds, they must be so confused. I should get the hummingbird feeder out...but gee whiz, it might well freeze! The barn swallows are back as well.

Last evening, I served the first pea shoots of the season. Tonight, I'll be covering them with a tarp.

Come on, Mother Nature-cooperate a little, OK?

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Wondra Crust and Viking Butter

I must say at the outset, that this is a rather expensive way to bake a strawberry rhubarb pie. Instant-blending flour is not cheap, nor is imported Danish butter, but in the end I baked a pie that had an incredibly flaky, tender crust that would be difficult to improve. That said, Lurpak and Wondra aren't items that ordinarily end up on my shopping list, and I'm reasonably certain they won't become staples. I will however, remember this recipe next time I need an impressive pie. I made two, and one is resting in the deep freeze waiting to be baked, so I know we can enjoy this pie at least once more. We all agreed it was delicious, and I suggested perhaps it would be worth baking fewer pies saving up for better ingredients. They both scrunched-up their faces at that suggestion, but honestly, I wonder if anything else will ever measure-up to this pie. I can't imagine using another crust, at least for a fruit pie. Damn, those Vikings make good butter!

The recipes for both the pastry and filling come from Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook, 1965. Man, talk about a book I'd like to bake my way through! I've had terrific luck with the recipes so far, and in general, my Farm Journal Cookbooks tend to be quite reliable. I purchased this one at the Library Sale (Thursdays, and the first Saturday of each month at the Swanson branch in Omaha) for the grand sum of a quarter. I'm glad I saved money on the book, because the pie itself cost a small fortune.

For the Pastry:

1 3/4 cup instant blending flour (in the US this is Wondra)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter (I used Lurpak)
1/4 cup ice water

Measure flour and salt into a large bowl. Sift lightly. Cut in shortening and butter until flour is damp. Add ice water a teaspoon at a time until dough just comes together. Divide into two balls for each crust. I made a lattice for the top, but you could use a solid covering.

For the Pie:

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup instant blending flour
2 cups fresh strawberries cut in half if large
2 cups rhubarb cut in 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
Cream and coarse sugar for glazing top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the rhubarb and strawberries in the bottom crust. Cover with half the dry mixture. Repeat with fruit and end with dry mixture. Dot with butter. Adjust top pastry. Brush with cream, and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake (on a baking sheet, because you KNOW it will leak) 40-50 minutes, or until crust is golden, and filling is bubbling up nicely.

Note-this makes a juicy pie. If you prefer it thicker, add some cornstarch, or more flour.

If freezing pie, prepare a solid top pastry, but do not cut vents. Cover with wax paper and cling film. When you bake it, bake from frozen, and after about ten minutes, remove it from the oven, cut vents, then continue baking as usual. 

Striper/Striped Bass/ Rockfish

 "Fish heads, fish heads, rolly-poly-fish heads, fish heads, fish heads, eat them up yum."

I'd have preferred the fish had been scaled and gutted (and filleted) before I had to cook it, but in the end, the boys enjoyed it. No one would touch the head. No one would gut or scale it either, but I guess that's what Mamas are for. Maybe I'll get a new fish knife for Mother's Day.

The easiest way to deal with striper is simply to bake it covered, with foil at 475 degrees F. for about 8 minutes per pound. I stuffed the fish with a wild rice, and spinach filling, but as long as you use enough butter or oil, anything will do. The fish avoids drying out, so long as you keep the cooking time within reason.

Once baked, the skin peels away easily, and the bones are large enough that you can serve the fish in sections, or lift off large pieces. Keep in mind that the striped bass has a very sharp fin that will draw blood if you are unlucky enough to stab yourself. I'm speaking from experience. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Apple Cake with Caramel Apple Sauce

Owl find time(er) for cake.

I had a large bottle of very expensive apple juice no one would drink. When Danny was sick last week, all he wanted was juice, so we bought several varieties. Now that he's (mostly) recovered, the juice sat in the fridge.

I poured it into a large pot, boiled the hell out of it until I had about 1/2 cup of syrup.
"Gee", I thought aloud, "Wouldn't this be good in caramel sauce?" And I'm pleased to report that yes, apple syrup makes an excellent addition to your favourite caramel sauce. Cut the sugar in the recipe by half, and add about 4 tablespoons of the concentrated syrup. It will be the best caramel apple you ever had-by the spoonful.

Well, sauce like that demanded a pretty special cake, and this is exactly that. I had to double wrap the extra and shove it in the back of the fridge for fear I'd eat half of it in a sitting. This cake has everything I love-apples, raisins, cinnamon...how could anyone not love this cake? I don't think I could be friends with someone that didn't like this cake. Really, I mean it.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (use something flavourless like soybean or sunflower)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon bicarb
1 teaspoon salt
3 large apples pared and diced small
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 pan. Combine sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Combine flours, cinnamon, bicarb, and salt. Add to egg mixture until blended. Fold in apples and raisins. Pour into prepared pan, and sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar. Bake 40-45 minutes or until cake tesats done. Cool in pan.

Sourdough Croissant

This was an attempt with some extra sourdough sponge I had sitting on the counter. The croissants could have risen longer, and I would have used better butter if I had it, but basically, it worked which was a shock. I need to perfect it before I post a recipe, but overall, I'm pleased. Adding 1/3 cup of vital wheat gluten helped quite a bit.

I made half the batch as chocolate filled. They froze perfectly, and Danny has been enjoying them for a quick breakfast. Twenty seconds or so on the lowest power setting of the microwave does the trick.

Danny's Raspberry Salad Dressing

This is a really great dressing for a simple dinner salad featuring fruit. As I had lettuce, radishes, and peaches, the raspberry was a perfect compliment. And yes, Danny invented it.

You Will Need:

1 cup raspberries forced through a fine sieve to remove seeds
1/4 cup corn oil
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried chervil

Combine in a jar and shake until mixed. You may wish to adjust the vinegar up or down to your taste.

Really Great Salmon Patties

I promise, these aren't the dry, broiled chewy salmon patties your (well, MY) mother made. Cook them ahead, and serve them cold with a salad for a colourful spring dinner. OK, fine-throw them on white bread and slather them in salad cream-I'm not your mother...or my mother, and these salmon patties are most certainly not dry, and overcooked.

You Will Need:

A half pound tin of red salmon, drained
1 tablespoon finely minced preserved lemon peel (or the zest of half a lemon, grated)
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 cup finely minced sweet onion
Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 large eggs
1/2-3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
 Butter or oil for frying

Mix everything except the breadcrumbs and oil in a mixing bowl. Add the breadcrubs a few tablespoons at a time. How much you will need depends on the sort of breadcrumbs you have (mine were a rather coarsely grated sourdough). Let it stand a minute before frying, and add more crumbs if you think you need them. You just want to be able to form a patty, and place it in the frying pan-it is better to have them a bit soft as they will firm up as they cook.

Melt a very shallow coating of butter or oil in your pan. Fry a few minutes, until nicely browned, then turn and cook on the other side. May be served warm or chilled.

Monday, April 22, 2013

It Is Snowing, But I have Gardening on My Brain

I'm told spinach gets sweeter when exposed to cold weather, so at this rate, I should be growing candy in my garden. We've had more snow/sleet/hail/downpours over the last week than any spring I can remember in Nebraska, and I've been here twelve years. So far, everything is holding up, but I don't dare take out the tender strawberries or peppers.

I'm growing a variety of peppers this year that can be dried, and ground for paprika. Since I go through tons of the stuff, I was curious to see if there would be much difference.

The arboretum plant sale is this Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Lancaster Events Center. If you're a local (or willing to make a trip) the "Spring Affair" is loads of fun, and you can come home with some really interesting stuff your local nursery won't have. Get there early for the best selection.If you are planning to go, and would like to do a meet-up, drop me an email.

Danny's lavender plant has really taken off after being re-potted. It needs to go outside at some point, if we ever get spring. The plant is named, Darcie after the young woman who sold Danny the plant. He's on a first-name basis with most of the people that work there. I see a summer job in his future. As yesterday was Earth Day, they sent him home with a complimentary potted daisy. I'm not sure if he named it. He probably named it. He always names the plants.

The snow continues...and still, the lawn needs mowing. How is that even possible?

Chili Spiced Tilapia

This was an improvisation that the boys insisted I post. The recipe is about as simple as it gets, and makes me wonder why I bother with complicated dishes. Make extra, as you probably won't have leftovers. Really, the kid is still going on about how great the fish was. *Shrug*. Believe me, I'm not complaining that he likes the easiest thing I've ever tossed in the oven on a few minute's notice. Anyway, this might be a good one to write down for some evening when you're pressed for time.

This would work with most fish, but I had frozen tilapia filets.

You Will Need:

4-6 Tilapia filets
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon peel
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder (mine is a mix of ancho, and other mild peppers)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking dish, and arrange the fish. Melt the butter, and stir in everything else. Pour over the fish, and bake 10-15 minutes until fish is done.

I served this over slices of fried polenta ("mush") with a black bean, corn, and red pepper salsa.

Friday, April 19, 2013

I Guess I'm Supposed to Say Something About the Marathon Bombing

-but really, what is there to say other than it was a horror? I still can't believe most of Eastern Mass was shut down for an armed teenager, but I don't make those calls. Interesting to see Watertown police have a tank.

I'm a little taken aback by how incredibly pissed off I've been since Monday. Sad, sure of course, but the overwhelming reaction I've had, as someone who spent a good chunk of her life living in Boston is one of, "Who the fuck do you think you are?" Well, now we know-a screwed-up teenager, and his screwed-up older brother. I'm relieved Boston hasn't become some sort of target for organised terrorists (or at least organised in the sense of more than two fuck-up siblings) but it hasn't made me any less angry. I wasn't expecting my reaction, and it would be easier to deal with if I were just anxious or depressed. It feels so damn personal even when I'm a thousand miles away.

I still can't believe they shut down everything from Boston to Watertown for the better part of 24 hours looking for this guy. I can't believe Watertown has a tank. I don't want to think about that today. I really hope they catch this kid alive so we can find out what the hell he was thinking.

"Fakewell" Tart

"Owl just help myself to a nice slice,,,damnit! I can't use a fork with wings!"

People, you really don't want to know what that tart looked like after the owl gave up on the fork. You don't. But if you see a snowy owl with a jam-stained beak...anyway.

Obviously, I wasn't going to make a Bakewell tart with Danny being allergic to almonds-so I made a Fakewell tart instead. You see this recipe quite a bit in Pennsylvania Dutch cookery, usually with the name, "Funny Cake" because it is a funny cake, as it is baked in a pastry crust. I used the recipe in A World of Cakes (Casella, 1968) for the cake part, and my own shortcrust and raspberry filling recipe. I iced it-I know that's vulgar, and if anything there should be a candied cherry atop the tart, rather than a blob of raspberry jam. Obviously I'm not shooting for authenticity with the complete omission of almonds, but I can assure you it is*really* good. I mean, good on a level of you won't be able to sleep knowing it is in the house, so yeah, you know what I say to those who frown on icing a Bakewell Tart.

I had a cup of frozen raspberries, and a few frozen cherries. I used an equal measure of granulated sugar, and a tablespoon of lemon juice for the filling. I cooked it just until it began to sheet from a spoon, then chilled it before layering in the tart. Save some off for the top if you feel comfortable with idea of a decorated Bakewell tart.

You Will Need:

An unbaked, single pastry case fitted into a 9 inch pie plate. It should be rather tall.
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter or margarine (I used margarine) softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used 2 %)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
Enough jam to cover the bottom of the pastry in a thin layer

Glaze-icing sugar and water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare the pastry case and chill while you make the filling.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Make a well and add the margarine, sugar, milk, and extract. Beat 2 minutes with an electric mixer, scraping sides often. Add egg and beat 1 minute longer.

Cover bottom of pastry with jam. Pour on the cake batter. Bake 50-55 minutes or until cake tests done and pastry is nicely browned. Cool cake partly in tin, then pour on a thick layer of glaze if desired. When cool enough to handle, and icing is partially set, use a thin spatula to gently remove tart to a wire rack to cool completley. This will ensure a crust that is not soggy. Top with additional jam if desired.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Coconut Poundcake

Be warned, this is a strange recipe. We were happy with the results, and it is somewhat lighter tasting (certainly not in calories) than my usual poundcake, but it does require a bit of work. I bake with what I have, as I live too far from town for a "quick run to the store." This has led to some creativity over the years, with varying degrees of success.I'm offering this recipe as more of a way to, "use up what you have" than something I would deliberately set out to make. I served it with a blueberry sauce made of frozen berries, lemon juice, and sugar. I didn't measure. If you stick to equal parts berries and sugar with a splash of lemon juice, you'll probably be fine-just don't overcook it or you will have jam.

Unlike most pound cakes, you'll need to preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

For The Cake:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup margarine
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs at room temperature
3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease and flour a tube pan.

Cream the butter, margarine, and cream cheese together thoroughly. This is important, as you don't want hunks of cream cheese unblended in the batter. Take your time, and make sure they are well mixed. The same holds as you add the sugar-slowly, no more than 1/4 cup at a time. You want a fluffy mixture. Beat slowly so you don't overwork it, but make sure the sugar gets absorbed. Now, beat in your eggs, one at a time incorporating them completely before adding the next. Stir in the extract.

Combine flour and baking powder, and add to creamed mixture. Stir in the coconut. pour into prepared tube pan and bake about 1 1/2 hours, but start checking at an hour twenty. You don't want to overbake it, but it should start pulling away from the sides of the pan. The toothpick test is reliable here, but you'll need a skewer given the height of the cake.

Let cake cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool on a rack.

Serve with fruit, custard sauce, or a light sprinkling of icing sugar. Store well-wrapped in wax paper and cling film in the fridge. Cut slices and bring to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Cherry-Apricot Pie


 "Owl" bet you'd like some pie, wouldn't you?

I hate this time of year-nothing is, "in season", and what fruit the supermarkets have are dull, and tasteless. Enter the "winter" pie. Using tinned apricots and Maraschino cherries, you can put together a halfway decent dessert while you wait for the first decent strawberries and stone fruits. I'm not exaggerating when I say they, "demolished" this pie. Usually, a pie will last four or five days-this one was gone in two-and I never got a slice! You can skip the maraschino cherries, which I added mostly for colour, but people who skip the maraschino cherries aren't the type of people who read this blog.

For the Crust:

2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter
4-7 tablespoons ice water

Combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until fine. Add water a tablespoon at a time until you can gather the dough lightly into a ball. Divide, and roll out enough for a bottom and lattice top.

For the Filling:

2 one pound tins of apricots in syrup, drained reserving 1/3 cup syrup. Slice the apricots, and set aside.
About 12 maraschino cherries, halved
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine sugar, flour, nutmeg, gineger, and salt. Add reserved syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture thickens. Add butter and lemon juice. Remove from heat, then stir in apricots and cherries. Pour into pie crust, top with lattice crust. Brush top with heavy cream or milk, and scatter with coarse or pearl sugar, if you like. Bake (on a baking sheet-just in case) at 400 degree F. for 40-45 minutes.

Somebunny Said You Wanted to See Easter Pictures

 "Yeah, I'm the Easter Bunny. You got a problem with that?"
 Oh look! Cans of soda pop for the Easter egg hunt.
Yeah, those glasses aren't working for me...but the ears sure are!

Sweet Carrot Pickles/Pickled Mushrooms and Onions

I made both of these last week, and they're wonderful already. Given time to store, they will probably get better. I did not bother to run them through the canner, as I knew we'd use them in the next couple weeks, but I'll post the recipe as published. I'd encourage you to make the carrots-they're really delicious.

Both recipes are from Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Book, 1973

For the Carrots:

Peel six pounds medium carrots (about 36). Cut lengthwise into quarters. Cook the carrots in boiling, salted water until just tender-6 to 7 minutes, Drain. In a large pot, combine 3 cups granulated sugar, 3 cups vinegar (I used cider), 3 cups water, 1/3 cup mustard seeds, 6 inches stick cinnamon, and 6 whole cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 20 minutes. Pack carrots into hot quart jars (or pints, but trim the carrots accordingly) leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Cover with vinegar mixture. Remove air bubbles, wipe treads, and seal with a warmed lid. Adjust bands, and process 10 minutes in a water bath canner (the recipe said, 5 which I don't think is adequate). Let cool 12-24 hours before testing seals.

For The Mushrooms:

1 pound fresh, whole mushrooms
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar (I used malt vinegar for 1/4 of that)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons canning salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed

Wash mushrooms, and trim stems. In a large saucepan, combine onions, vinegar, water, brown sugar, salt, and tarragon. Bring to a boil. Add mushrooms, and simmer uncovered 5 minutes. Remove vegetables from liquid with a slotted spoon. Pack vegetables into sterilised, hot jars. Cover with liquid leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, adjust lids, and bands. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Let stand 12-24 hours before testing for seals. If you get otters...you otter throw 'em. back!

Chocolate Whipped Cream Roll

"What do you mean, "No Owl? I'm right here, you idiot. I'm not sure what a "Bouche" is, but I can assure you, there most certainly IS an owl, thank you very much! Not really my sort of dessert anyway...I prefer a chocolate mouse."

(and the owl theme marches right along...)

This was a surprisingly easy, and delicious recipe. Like an icebox cake, the whipped cream softens the cake, and it is even better the second day. The recipe is from, America Cooks, The general Federation of Women's Clubs Cookbook 1967.

You Will Need:

5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tablespoon sifted plain flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped with sugar to taste

3 tablespoons butter
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 151/2x10 1/2 baking sheet with parchment, then grease again (trust me on this, the cake is super-sticky).

Combine egg yolks and sugar in mixing bowl and beat until thickened and light. Carefully fold in vanilla. cocoa, and flour.

In another bowl, beat whites until stiff. Fold into yolk mixture. Carefully spread in pan, and bake 12-15 minutes.

Dust a kitchen towel with icing sugar. Turn cake out onto towel, remove parchment, and roll up from the short end in towel. Let cool, then unroll and fill with whipped cream. Chill until ready to glaze. Melt chocolate and butter together just until melted. Quickly pour over cake and chill before serving.

Overheard at the Park

(A father, or possibly grandfather screaming at (about) seven year old boy from his bench across the park)

"Hey, Billy, get back up on the slide. Climb back up. What are you waiting for? The girls are running faster than you. Are you a girl?! Get back up Billy! Hurry up Billy! If you're tired already, you're a GIRL! Get back on that slide, NOW! What's wrong with you?Billy!n Billy!"

This went on for a good ten minutes before the poor kid finally sat down and refused to move. They left, with the old man screaming at him the whole way down the street.

Yay, America.

Caption Contest

Leave your captions in the comments. No prizes or anything, but the photo is dying for a caption-so have at it.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Teaching 1984

Although it has been controversial, I personally am pleased the local school board has decided to go ahead, and teach a revised edition of 1984. Rather than pull the book from the library, and curriculum due to sexual and drug related content, they have approved an abridged version of the book that presents the story in a clearer manner free of the distractions of cigarettes, unmarried sex, and Victory gin. Parents and concerned citisens have been reassured that the laptops provided to the students for reading the electronic editions are equipped with tracking software, and a webcam should they attempt to access the text in the original format.

I really do applaud this decision, because as a parent, I want my child to understand the dangers of tyranny, without being subjected to inappropriate material. I'm sure Orwell would have understood, after all, the world is a much more dangerous place than it was in the 1940's. Besides, no one knew how bad cigarettes were for you back then, and most venereal diseases could be cured with a shot of penicillin.

I've already looked over the new revised edition, and if you hadn't read the original recently, you wouldn't even know anything was missing.

We have to make sure our children understand the evils of totalitarianism, but that doesn't mean we have to give up parental authority to make good choices for them. I'm sure Orwell would agree, if he weren't dead. Which he is because he was a smoker. And an alcoholic. And a pervert. And an atheist.